Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Arabs, Jews, and peace: back to basics

The Arab-Israeli peace process resumes when Presidents Reagan and Sadat meet. The need is to restore a sense of direction by getting back to basics. First: American power in the Middle East will be further eroded if the United States does not establish a firm and just posture in advancing the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. Firm in stating its position and in protecting its own interests. Just in standing for fair and secure solutions.

Power is the ability to move events. Power comes at least as much from the strength to make peace as from the ability to use force. US mediation of five Arab-Israeli agreements, 1974-1979, demonstrated that.

About these ads

Lasting power comes even more from the will to support just and secure solutions than from military might, important as military capability is.

Second: Progress toward an Arab-Israeli peace depends now on engaging Israel's eastern neighbors in the negotiations.

The important steps toward peace since 1967 all start from a commitment to an overall peace between Israel and its neighbors. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, the Camp David accords, the Egypt-Israel peace treaty -- all envisioned peace in which every state in the area can live in peace and security.

No partial settlement can be just, secure, and lasting by itself. Even the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, according to its own words, was never intended as an end in itself.

Third: Engaging Israel's eastern neighbors in peace negotiations will spotlight the historic Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict.

A full peace will require ending the conflict that brought Israel and its neighbors to war in the first place. The conflict began over how Jews and Arabs would live together at peace in the former Palestine mandate and over whether a Jewish state would be accepted there. Those are still the issues to be resolved.

Both sides have tried force to resolve the conflict -- on the battlefield, through terror, and through military occupation. Neither has the power to enforce a lasting solution.

About these ads

The question is whether they are ready to try negotiation. Negotiation can bridge gaps only when parties are ready to find common ground among available compromises. When either party insists on an all-or-nothing settlement, the only solution is surrender and not negotiation.

Fourth: A first requirement in any negotiation is agreement on the purpose of the negotiation. Closely related is the need for some common view of the possible shape of a negotiated solution. Neither exists today on Israel's eastern front.

Some Arabs and some Israelis still do not agree that Jews and Arabs should live together with equal rights at peace in the former Palestine mandate. Some Arabs do not accept a Jewish homeland there. Some Israelis believe the land of Israel encompasses all Palestine or at least that a Palestinian homeland there would endanger Israel.

Other Arabs are prepared to make peace with a Jewish state. Other Israelis acknowledge there will be no peace or acceptance of Israel while Palestinian Arabs remain under Israeli occupation in any form.

Most relevant Arab leaders are prepared to negotiate peace with Israel -- provided Israel will negotiate a peace that is just. Most Israelis are prepared to make peace -- provided the Arabs will negotiate a real peace that is secure.

The issue then is whether a solution can be negotiated that is both just and secure when two nationalisms claim the same land.

The world has considered three solutions. one is a secular state in which Jews and arabs would live together with guarantees for individual religious and ethnic rights. The other is to divide the land into a Jewish and an Arab homeland. A third is to try to design a complex relationship where the Palestinians would enjoy political self-expression but not full sovereignty.

Over the years, the world community has favored dividing the land between Jewish and Arab homelands as the most workable solution.

Resolution 242, passed by the United Nations Security Council after the 1967 war, envisioned Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967 and the establishment of secure and recognized boundaries in the context of peace. The Camp David accords are based on Resolution 242.

Do the parties agree that the purpose of negotiation is to determine howm Jews and Arabs will live peacefully in separate homelands in the former Palestine mandate? Not yet.

Affirmation of each side's position on that point is critical to serious negotiation. Right now, the negotiations are hung up over hidden agendas. Some Arabs see the Camp David negotiations as a cover for prolonged exercise of Israeli sovereignty in occupied territories. Some Israelis believe greater Palestinian authority would lead to an independent state with the longer term aim of establishing a secular state in all Palestine.

Fifth: Further negotiations must build on what has been achieved in past negotiations but recognize what has not yet been achieved.

Camp David and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty were milestones in establishing the first peace and in committing both parties to resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects. They cannot -- should not -- be scrapped, but they did not finish the job.

Reagan, Sadat, and Begin may well discuss resuming the talks on autonomy for the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. But unless they discuss how to engage Israel's eastern neighbors, we will all be deluding ourselves about the seriousness of the negotiation.

Since the Palestinian problem cannot be resolved without the Palestinians, the next step is to build beyond what has been achieved to involve them and the Arab states who support them. The Camp David accords envisioned their involvement.

That will not happen unless all parties agree that the purpose of the negotiation is a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There will not be a resolution of that conflict which does not get back to basics by recognizing the desire of both Israelis and Palestinians for a homeland in the former Palestine mandate. A negotiated solution cannot be an all-or-nothing solution for either side.

There will not be a resolution of that conflict which is not fair and secure for both.

Sixth: As the peace process resumes, the US needs to develop an active dialogue with Israel's eastern neighbors on the peace process. It needs to affirm with each party that the purpose of negotiation is to determine how Jews and Arabs will live in security and peace in their own homelands and to agree on procedures for establishing that relationship.

To proceed without recognizing that today we do not have a common view of the purpose of this negotiation or the possible shape of a negotiated solution is to accept stalemate.

To proceed while pursuing affirmation of a common view among all key parties may open doors to a wider peace process. Ambassador Habib's peace mission has reopened the doors to US cooperation with Israel and its eastern neighbors. The peace process now needs to be led through those doors.

Finally: We need an impasse-breaking demonstration that the parties are ready to discuss each other's basic concerns and to make peace. We need a demonstration that can break the psychological barriers of suspicion and distrust.

President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem broke an impasse because it demonstrated undeniably that Egypt was ready to accept Israel and make peace. After centuries of cruel rejection, Israelis state that the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict is Arab refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state in the Middle East.

We need such a demonstration on Israel's eastern front. One aim of US diplomacy should be to stimulate it.

At the same time, Arabs, since the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, have sought the right to work out their own destiny without foreign domination -- the right of self-determination. israel must demonstrate unmistakably that it will negotiate a peace which respects this aspiration.

The issue about the principle of self-determination is not whether or not the US endorses it. Israel, the Arab States, and the US all subscribe to the United Nations Charter. The purposes of the UN include: "To develop friendly relations among nations based on the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples. . . ."

The issue is how the principle can be applied in bringing peace and security among Israel and its eastern neighbors. That peace is the objective as the peace process resumes.

From my experience as a diplomat I recognize -- perhaps better than most Americans -- that there is a vast difference between saying what ought to be done and actually doing it. I have the deepest respect for the agony of those who must turn purpose into policy and then implement that policy.

I also know there will be no policy without firm and just purpose. There will be no clear definition of purpose unless we all go back to basics and remind ourselves what the problem is and what com mitments we have made in its solution.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.